The story of Radar in World War II is an interesting one. It was developed by the British, and then subsequently perfected by them. It was, essentially at the time, the perfect technology. It worked well, training of operators was relatively easy, and for the American Army and Navy: it was cheap. Britain had, in a desperate move to gain favor and production capability, transferred their entire folio of radar research and design information.
Radar was cheap, fast, and you could mash it in to existing process and workflow. Everything seemed rosy.
Those who worked on Radar each day, like Private Eliot at Pearl Harbor, came to trust their radar completely. They saw each and every aircraft coming and going within their range and often coordinated large influxes of aircraft. The problem, however, was that nobody else got to seem much of Radar in action. It was a few miles from Pearl Harbor itself and communicated by radio.
People couldn’t understand it, and they couldn’t trust it much either.
The 7th of December 1941, the Pearl Harbor Radar operator saw something new on his screen. It was filling up with dots. Little dots blinking on the radar screen.
This was the moment of crisis. 1 hour before the attacks would begin. Certainly enough time to move some ships and prepare some sort of defense.
When word came through that something was coming, nobody got very excited, until finally someone remembered that a group was flying from the mainland that day. The command was sent back that it was just friendly planes and not to worry, “you probably have your bearings off” or something like that.
Sure enough, Radar was right. It was a massive group of Japanese fighters coming to launch a full scale attack.
Being in the business of building, buying or selling technology that is better, faster, cheaper is a much scarier place to be than we realize sometimes. We sit behind our radar screens and we become believers. We see that these technologies are reliable, easy and world changing, but we often get stuck because we can’t communicate that same excitement, or faith, to those around us.
Can we avoid being Radar? or are we doomed to be ignored at the strategic and operational level?
The problem was not adoption
There has been a lot of talk about “adoption” during this conference and on this blog, but the interesting thing about Radar was that it was adopted completely on the level it needed to be. The Army and Navy accepted it, deployed it and the right people volunteered to be trained for it (they were mostly young, early adopters). Radar was then spliced in to the process and workflow of the day.
The problem was in fact that nobody had a sense of ownership for Radar. It was a British invention, given to the Americans and subsequently installed in a relatively short period of time. People agreed that it probably worked, probably seemed like a good idea, and they even integrated it into their everyday work. They listened to the Radar station during training exercises, and even saw that it was pretty accurate. Everyone also heard great success stories of it’s use in Europe to coordinate air defense and protect bombers.
The problem instead was that when faced with a moment of crisis, or more accurately perhaps: a moment of confusion, people defaulted away from Radar and back to themselves and the things that were familiar to them.
There may have been a few ways to build a sense of ownership of Radar amongst the Army and Navy. As a Monday Morning (or post-half century) quarterback it is easy to think we might have done a better job, but the truth probably is that it really takes a moment of crisis to create that sense of ownership and trust that a new tool needs to be effective.
After Pearl Harbor, the Army and Navy embraced Radar with a sort of vengeance. It was never questioned again.
Different Moments of Crisis
Moments of Crisis can be different for everyone with Enterprise social tools. It could be someone who has lost faith in their job and they are desperately looking for a space to be themselves, it could be a manager who is tired of not making progress, it could be a CEO who realizes that he/she is not capable of doing this him/her-self. It could be a company with almost no growth, or an organization that is chronically under capitalized and needs to cut costs dramatically in order to survive.
It could be anything.
A Personal thing
Social tools, new models for work and business, independent and creative work are all very personal things. As we bring these new toolkits and capabilities to organizations, we have to respect the fact that we are asking people to have faith more than anything.
We can’t sell this to them, we can’t “build adoption” or “create viral uptake”. No, I’m sorry, we can only offer them, and ourselves, a little bit of something and be there as a sort of steward of The New. A sort of Jesuit Priest for a new freedom.
So let’s stop spinning our wheels. Let’s stop worrying about being successful on a large scale and let’s start thinking about having an impact on people.
I call it the New Human Enterprise, Ray Lane calls it the Personal Enterprise, most people are calling it Enterprise 2.0, but no matter what we call it, we are really talking about Faith and Salvation in a corporate world, to get there we need to start filling bellies with healthy food and offering individuals a new way of living.